Urban Planning and the British New Right

By Philip Allmendinger; Huw Thomas | Go to book overview

8

COUNTRYSIDE CONSERVATION AND THE NEW RIGHT

Kevin Bishop

Introduction

The Conservatives have traditionally been seen and portrayed themselves as ‘the party of the countryside’ (Conservative Research Department 1995:1), enjoying electoral support from the rural shires. This rural connection, somewhat eroded in the 1980s, was rediscovered in recent years and was never more obvious than at the 1996 party conference, where the ideals of country life proved central. Douglas Hogg, then Agriculture Minister, proclaimed that Conservative values were at heart rural values. John Gummer, then Secretary of State for the Environment, expressed the hope that Tory patriotism would not be further ‘clouded by urban thinking’. Whilst elements of the New Right agenda of ‘liberalisation’ can be witnessed in countryside planning and management (notably through continued commitment to the voluntary principle) the rhetoric does not always marry with the reality. There has been a tension between New Right ideology and traditional Tory paternalism with the ‘radicalism’ of the New Right agenda often tempered and reversed in the field of countryside conservation by paternal concern for the countryside and historic heritage which are more akin to the views of ‘one-nation’ Tories. When the Conservatives came to power in 1979 the countryside was largely unregulated in terms of planning controls over rural land uses which made it difficult for the new Government to demonstrate the deregulatory zeal associated with the New Right. In the 18 years that have elapsed since 1979 the range of regulatory controls over most countryside activities and developments has expanded: there has been an increase in the number of categories of protected areas and their spatial coverage, and the machinery of conservation governance has expanded.

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